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Open Access Research article

The effects of an area-based intervention on the uptake of maternal and child health assessments in Australia: A community trial

Margaret Kelaher1*, David Dunt1, Peter Feldman1, Andrea Nolan2 and Bridie Raban3

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Health Policy, Programs and Economics, School of Population Health, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

2 Faculty of Education, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia

3 Early Childhood Consortium, Faculty of Education, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

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BMC Health Services Research 2009, 9:53  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-9-53

Published: 25 March 2009

Abstract

Background

Recognition of the importance of the early years in determining health and educational attainment and promotion of the World Health Organization Health for All (HFA) principles has led to an international trend towards community-based initiatives to improve developmental outcomes among socio-economically disadvantaged children. In this study we examine whether, Best Start, an Australian area-based initiative to improve child health was effective in improving access to Maternal and Child Health (MCH) services.

Methods

The study compares access to information, parental confidence and annual 3.5 year Ages and Stages visiting rates before (2001/02) and after (2004/05) the introduction of Best Start. Access to information and parental confidence were measured in surveys of parents with 3 year old children. There were 1666 surveys in the first wave and 1838 surveys in the second wave. The analysis of visiting rates for the 3.5 year Ages and Stages visit included all eligible Victorian children. Best Start sites included 1,739 eligible children in 2001/02 and 1437 eligible children in 2004/05. The comparable figures in the rest of the state were and 45, 497 and 45, 953 respectively.

Results

There was a significant increase in attendance at the 3.5 year Ages and Stages visit in 2004/05 compared to 2001/02 in all areas. However the increase in attendance was significantly greater at Best Start sites than the rest of the state. Access to information and parental confidence improved over the course of the intervention in Best Start sites with MCH projects compared to other Best Start sites.

Conclusion

These results suggest that community-based initiatives in disadvantaged areas may improve parents' access to child health information, improve their confidence and increase MCH service use. These outcomes suggest such programmes could potentially contribute to strategies to reduce child health inequalities.